Is anointing Ryan Giggs United’s way of closing door on José Mourinho | Paul Wilson

Setting up Ryan Giggs as Louis van Gaal’s successor may have been a hint to the former Chelsea manager but it does not make much sense for Manchester United

José Mourinho has been available for three weeks now, and still no takers. Clearly three weeks is not exactly a lifetime in exile for a football manager but when Chelsea wielded the axe last month it was widely assumed leading clubs would be falling over themselves in the rush to secure his services, especially as he made sure to advertise himself as ready to start right away.

Instead Mourinho has become a sort of stalking horse, the lurking possibility that forces clubs to act quickly and reveal their intentions. Rafael Benítez might have lasted a little longer but for the speculation linking Mourinho with a return to the Bernabéu, and to make sure that story did not go any further Real Madrid lost no time in naming Zinedine Zidane as an instant replacement.

Manchester United appear to have been thinking along the same lines. Mourinho’s availability was the last thing Louis van Gaal needed as he was going through a bad patch in December, and though United have still to convince most observers they are back to anything like their best the club seized on the first signs of improvement to let it be known the present manager still has their full confidence. Not only that, they would like him to be succeeded by Ryan Giggs, when the time comes. Whether that is a wise and well thought out policy is a matter for another day, just as with Zidane’s somewhat hurried elevation at Madrid. The point is simply to close the door on Mourinho in as polite a way as possible. Thanks but no thanks. We’ve got what we need for now.

In managerial terms, however, there is no further similarity between United and Madrid. The latter have had 14 managers since the turn of the century. It would not be the greatest surprise if Zidane did not prove a long-term success, because short-termism is the norm at Madrid. Whereas the English club are only on their third manager in 30 years, or their fourth if anyone insists on counting Giggs’s brief period as caretaker. United’s faith in long-term solutions is one of the reasons they are extending Van Gaal credit he barely deserves, and the thinking behind Giggs being identified as the candidate to replace him is that if all goes well he could stick around almost as long as a manager as he did as a player.

That is the theory, anyway. You only have to look at the Sir Alex Ferguson years to see why United may want longevity and continuity, though the idea it can be achieved simply by staying in-house or close to home – as in identifying David Moyes as the nearest thing to a clone of a younger Ferguson – is less straightforward and so far unproven. Yet even though they are not fully recovered from botching the last succession United appear to be prepared to take the same risks all over again, if Giggs really is the new chosen one.

To begin with the most obvious of several drawbacks, Giggs has no managerial pedigree. Less than three years ago United thought Premier League experience was more important than European achievement, hence the appointment of Moyes, who might have been the wrong man but at least had 11 solid years at Everton behind him. Now they want to give the job to a novice, which seems odd. Even Zidane had a year in charge of Castilla, which may be Madrid’s B team but is still better than nothing. Logically speaking, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce or even Roy Keane deserve a chance before Giggs. Heck, even Gary Neville has now picked up more relevant experience. While it may be argued some of those managerial careers have not been illustrious enough to deserve a crack at United, Giggs has yet to commence a managerial career.

Second, most of the time Giggs has been sitting beside Van Gaal picking up hints and broadening his experience, United have been patchy at best. By his own admission Van Gaal has been struggling to get performances out of his players, some of United’s recent displays have been the most uninspired for decades, so why appoint from within when most fans appear to be calling for a complete overhaul? What sort of continuity would United favour? More of the same?

The future as envisaged by Ed Woodward seems to involve Van Gaal finally leading the side to some sort of success, a domestic title, for instance, or genuine improvement in the Champions League, before handing over to his replacement having restored some of the club’s old glory. If this happens, fair enough. If it does not, and there are few signs of any such turnaround yet, why would Van Gaal’s assistant be in line for promotion?

It is beyond dispute Giggs was both a great player and a great Manchester United servant, but so was Bobby Charlton. So was Bryan Robson. There is no guarantee management will come as easily, and for every Pep Guardiola there are plenty who fail. United may view an internal appointment as a safe option but in reality there is no such thing. What happens if Van Gaal has become an unpopular figure by the time he departs? Would Giggs be tainted by association? Perhaps he already is, because at the moment Van Gaal is hardly universally admired.

The bottom line is Woodward and his board cannot guess the future better than anyone else and United are simply not in a position to know when their next manager will be needed or what sort of a job he will be asked to do. United have two (should they beat Sheffield United on Saturday) FA Cup ties this month with Premier League games away at Newcastle and Liverpool, and Southampton at home between them.

Come February they could be back in crisis mode, with Van Gaal hinting at resigning then denying it all over again. Is this really a time to be indicating the next manager will come from within, or does the club have an ulterior motive in promoting the Giggs ascendancy? It has already put a stop to the Mourinho gossip, but perhaps Woodward feels a Welshman in charge at Old Trafford would increase the club’s chances of landing Gareth Bale at some point.

That would at least be clever, though plenty feel United would be better advised to stop tilting at Spanish windmills and sort out the misfiring in Manchester. More devious still is the possibility United may be using Giggs, or at least a settled succession, as a smokescreen to cover talks to divert Guardiola from his assumed path to Manchester City and smuggle him into Old Trafford while no one is looking.

Unlikely, perhaps, but no more so than United opting for a manager with zero experience, or continuing to back a 64-year-old who has spent £250m yet confessed a few weeks ago his team did not dare play football.

These are strange times indeed. Something does not add up and basically it is the fact United appear to favour fixing an unconventional situation with an unconventional solution. That seems fraught with danger but maybe Woodward knows what he is doing. He has seen most of United’s games this season, after all. Maybe he thinks it is high time they began to live a little dangerously.


Paul Wilson

The GuardianTramp

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